LIMA, Peru — Peru's president asked President Russell M. Nelson to help his country's children Saturday morning during a historic meeting at the presidential palace here.
On Saturday night, President Nelson spoke in Spanish as he delivered a message to the parents among 5,600 people who gathered to hear him at a full Lima coliseum.
"Please teach your children about the Atonement of Jesus Christ," said the president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. "His Atonement is the most important event in the history of the world and the foundation of our religion. Everything else in our religion is secondary."
In between, President Nelson spoke to nearly one-tenth of the church's missionary force in a broadcast from a packed Lima chapel.
The day began early, with a 40-minute visit with Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra. The two leaders agreed Latter-day Saints are a force for good in the country and discussed the needs of women and children, humanitarian issues and their shared concern about corruption.
"It was an extraordinary privilege for us," President Nelson said. "He was very warm and gracious, welcoming."
President Nelson expressed support for the work of Vizcarra, who has made fighting graft his top priority. A Peruvian Supreme Court justice fled the country earlier this month after police recorded phone conversations describing a criminal network of judges who traded favors with politicians and businessmen, according to Reuters. The fugitive justice was captured Friday in Spain.
"We are concerned with the problems of corruption all over the world," President Nelson said. "This is where (President Vizcarra) is making a great effort. Really, he's loved by the people because he's anti-corruption."
Both men are still relatively new to their positions. President Nelson became the faith's 17th prophet and president in January. Vizcarra took office in March.
President Nelson is making his 10th visit to Peru as the first stop in a tour of five South American countries. He will attend church in Lima on Sunday morning, then fly to Bolivia for a devotional there Sunday night.
He said he was impressed with Peru's progress.
"I've been to Peru many times, and I've seen much improvement over the years," he said.
President Nelson said Vizcarra was familiar with the church and its members.
"We have more than half a million members here, nearly 600,000," President Nelson said. "So it's an important force for good in the country."
Elder Gary E. Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles joined the meeting with Elder Enrique R. Fallabella, a native Guatemalan and president of the church's South America Northwest Area presidency, Guillermo Estrugo, Area Director of Public Affairs and Mark Woodruff, President Nelson's personal secretary. Also present were Vizcarra's personal secretary and a translator.
"As President Nelson was describing our membership," Elder Stevenson said, "President Vizcarra was nodding his head, 'Yes, yes, I'm very much aware of them,' and of our young members."
The conversation turned to children.
"He was very concerned about the welfare of children," President Nelson said, "and he asked for our help with their children so they won't feel lonely or poverty-stricken."
"President Nelson described what we do and what we teach our children," Elder Stevenson said. "We teach our children to be honest, to be forthright, to follow Jesus Christ and to honor and sustain the laws of the land and support the government."
The two presidents also discussed humanitarian issues, and Elder Fallabella described the church's broad impact in Peru. The church has directly helped nearly 5 million people in this nation of 31 million since 1985.
"He's aware that we are trying to reach the poor people in Peru," Elder Falabella said, "helping them with the things they need."
President Nelson said the church delegation also praised the work of Peru's First Lady, a well-known educator and champion of women and children.
"Particularly, she is a wonderful example of the power of a woman in Peru," he said.
He presented Vizcarra with a miniature Christus statue and a signed copy of one of his books.
"I also told him we'd be praying for him, and he loved it," President Nelson said.
He spoke about the visit during the devotional on Saturday night at the Coliseo Mariscal Cáceres.
"He thanked me for the wonderful conduct of you Latter-day Saints," President Nelson said. "He thanked me for your being good citizens. And he thanked us for the help that the Latter-day Saints give in the humanitarian effort, helping the poor, giving wheelchairs to thsoe who are immobile and fresh water to those who are without, and more. We as general authorities of the church must thank you for being such good examples."
Church members were delighted and applauded when he said he would speak in Spanish.
Sister Wendy Nelson also spoke in the meeting along with Elder Stevenson and his wife, Lesa, and Elder Falabella and Sister Carmen Falabella.
"Everything in his church belongs to Jesus Christ," Sister Nelson said. "The covenants are his, the ordinances are his, the priesthood power is his, the apostles are his and the prophet is his prophet, chosen by him and instructed by him.
Elder Stevenson said Latter-day Saints can sustain their prophet by praying for him, studying his words, listening to his conference addresses and following his inspired teachings completely.
"You can share with your friends that we have a prophet on the earth today," he said.
"I felt the influence of the Spirit very strongly," said Sister Karen Coloma, 28, a senior statistical analyst in Lima, where she moved with her family two years ago to escape political and economic problems in Venezuela. The devotional was the first time she has seen a living prophet in person.
"Elder Stevenson and his wife and Sister Nelson all testified that he is a prophet of God and talks to God," Coloma said, "and the experiences they have with him strengthened my testimony that he really is a prophet and was called of God and communicates with him and can help us."
Ana Vasquez, 48, attended the meeting with her husband and three of their children. She couldn't find words to express her feelings during the meeting but said they gave her hope. She said Sister Nelson's description of her husband receiving revelation resonated with her own experiences of personal revelation.
"I loved that she has had that privilege, and that we can have the privilege, too," Vazquez said.
On Saturday afternoon, the Nelsons, Stevensons and Falabellas spoke to several hundred missionaries at the Limatambo chapel. The meeting was broadcast to 5,000 missionaries serving in Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, Colombia and Bolivia.
President Nelson taught the missionaries from one of his favorite books in the Book of Mormon, 3 Nephi. He said there is a lesson to be found in Jesus Christ only adding himself to his commandment to be perfect like Father in Heaven after Christ was resurrected and appeared in the Americas.
"There’s a lesson in perfection," President Nelson said. "Perfection is not errorless performance. Perfection is being changed from a mortal and fallible person to a person who is immortal, changed and able to dwell in the presence of God. Don’t be discouraged if you find yourself making a few flaws in your life. We all make mistakes. That’s how we repent, thanks to the Lord Jesus Christ, there is no mistake we can make for which we cannot repent, with one or two egregious exceptions."
Elder Stevenson invited missionaries to use the Missionary Handbook, scriptures and Preach My Gospel manual as their three main tools. He also instructed them to extend an invitation in every meeting with someone interested in the church's message.
"Every time, after every invitation, you promise a blessing," he added. "I promise you if you promise a blessing, it will bring your investigators toward repentance and baptism. This is the Lord’s manner of teaching. Every time he extends an invitation, he promises a blessing."
Missionaries said they were motivated by the meeting.
"I loved seeing the prophet and being able to hear everything he had for the missionaries," said Elder Leonardo Albarracín, 19, of Quito, Ecuador, a convert of seven years who has been serving in Lima for four months and called it "incredible" to see a church president for the first time. "I learned about the importance of 'Preach My Gospel' and I'm going to work with a better attitude and bigger smile."
Sister Wara Fernandez, 19 of Cochabamba, Bolivia, has served in the Lima East Mission for three months.11 comments on this story
"I couldn't believe it," she said of seeing the prophet she teaches others about in person for the first time. "I was really excited to see him and hear and him and I had another confirmation that he is a prophet of God."
She was grateful the Nelsons taught the missionaries to envision 100 deceased ancestors of each person they meet praying for them along with President and Sister Nelson and 16 million Latter-day Saints.
"I feel really grateful and blessed," she added, "and more excited to work in the work of the Lord."